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Frame-Off Willys CJ-2A Body Resto

Posted in How To: Body Chassis on May 23, 2018
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Photographers: Stuart A. Bourdon

Everyone has an opinion on how far to go or not go when doing a paintjob on any Jeep restoration. Some may feel the urge to leave it alone and simply embrace the dents, holes, patina, rust areas, and a multitude of colors. Some may feel a quickie shop spray job to change the color is good enough for them. If we were going to build this particular Jeep for more hard-core trails it would seem ridiculous to do anything other than leave it alone and roll white, or at least rattle-can it with olive drab. As you know, this 2A restoration is just that—a restoration—so taking it back to an originally offered 1946 color was preferred. From the factory this Willys was what seemed to be Michigan Yellow, but after a few discussions with my two daughters, who will learn to drive with this Jeep’s three-speed stick, we agreed on Pasture Green.

Now that the color decision was made, it was time to look for the help needed to make our vision a reality. We had such good results working with AutoCraft in Camarillo, California, on previous tasks on the 2A project that we went back to AutoCraft for the final job of mediablasting, prepping, and painting the CJ-2A tub, fenders, grille, hood, various lids, and the M38 windshield it came with (that we decided to keep). Finding the right modern PPG paint code to match up to the original Ditzler 1946 paint code was no easy task. It took hours of Internet research to finally come across the PPG code that most accurately matched the color we had selected. Since variations in tone occur once painted, we ordered a sample and had it sprayed onto a small piece of metal shaped with curves just to be safe. We looked at it in the sunlight, shade, and indoors, and finally agreed that we had nailed it. The full measure needed of Pasture Green (and a little bit extra for touch-up) was ordered.

The Willys 2A tub was small enough to fit in the bed of a fullsize pickup for ease of transportation to the paint and body shop, but we needed a trailer to bring it home fresh after paint to keep it from rubbing against any hard surfaces.

With so many things changed, swapped for newer parts, or modified on the more than 70-year-old Willys it was now time to decide what would be taken back to factory original and what would be left to keep the character the 2A-M38 combo had acquired in its lifetime. If you’ve been following this project, you already know we’re not doing a “concours” restoration here. We decided to keep the aesthetically pleasing M38 windshield frame and one-piece glass with rifle rack mount—holes and all—but we converted to a 3A-style middle opening vent. We also saved the modified glovebox, along with swapping in better-positioned full-back reproduction 3A seating. Our guess is that at some point a tree or something big fell on the original 2A windshield frame and rear seat.

The last things to address were the rear bow holders that had been chopped off rather crudely to fit an aftermarket top. When we found quality reproduction units, we added them to the list of fabrication work the 2A would need. Read on to see how things went once we made these important decisions and dropped the Willys off at AutoCraft so they could transform this old rig into a showroom beauty that can handle itself well on the highway and in the dirt.

We took inventory again once at AutoCraft and made lists of all the parts to be mediablasted, ones also needing fabrication work, holes filled, and any other special needs. Obviously, all would need to be painted. Attention to detail here made sure we got everything done right the first time.
Identifying and assessing areas of the body, such as the inside of the toolbox area on our project, that will need special attention after mediablasting is helpful in setting up an agreed plan with any paint and body shop to fix such areas and stay within the budget.
Once the mediablasting with aluminum oxide and crushed walnut shell was completed all the areas that needed special attention could be reassessed, and decisions could be made about what do to solve any problems.
A problem area that exposed itself after mediablasting was the right rear reflector panel. This part of the body was so severely chopped and cut up by the previous owners it looked like Swiss cheese. AutoCraft used their professional fabrication and bodywork skills to somehow make this Jeep cleaner than when it left the factory in ’46.
After mediablasting a workable primer/sealer was sprayed onto every part of the Willys in order to keep any surface rust from occurring, yet still allowing for bodywork.
The Willys M38 windshield frame seemed to have been modified so many times in the past to fit several different tops that the many holes in it had to be welded up and ground flat to make the frame look factory again.
Tapping away slowly but surely with a hammer and dolly in this particular corner of the 2A tub straightened out the wrinkles left by years of use and patchwork fixes.
Once the decision was made to replace the chopped-up rear bow holder on this corner, it was removed and the location for the new bow holder was prepped.
Proper placement of the bow holder was necessary to make sure it would lay flat on the corner prior to welding in order to get a good weld bead and kept it straight.
Once the right rear fabrication was completed another coat of primer was applied to keep any surface rust away prior to paint. Now you can really appreciate AutoCraft’s fabrication and metalworking skills. We also decided to leave a hole for wiring that will sit behind the reflector in case we ever decide to add the right rear taillight.
Since we did not have any immediate plans to tow this Jeep, it was decided to fill in the sizable hole in the front left of the grille that was left by a previous trailering harness connection.
Here’s the Willys 2A grille before final sanding and paint prep with just enough body filler applied to cover the imperfections of age and prior modifications. The same process of pre-paint prep was carried on with the fenders, hood and other smaller parts.
To get a straighter-than-factory body, a stud welder was used to weld pins to the side, and then a slide stud puller was used to precisely bring those areas level with the rest of the body side. Then the pins were cut and ground away to a smooth finish. This technique was also used on the top of the cowl.
Here you can see the extent of careful work that AutoCraft performed in order to make this Willys 2A tub as clean as it could possibly be. Taking the time and putting in the effort at this stage is what made for a fantastic paintjob!
With the underside already painted it was time to prepare the inner and outer tub by masking off the wheelwells and belly from any potential overspray. Then it was given one last wipedown with a paint prep to remove any oil residue from handling or residual dust.
With most of the Jeep’s body parts, smaller pieces, and bottom of the tub already painted, the Pasture Green paint formula was prepared by mixing in the hardener, making it ready to fill the spray gun paint cup.
Having the benefit of a well-lit and ventilated spray booth, as opposed to our two-car suburban garage, it was much easier for AutoCraft to spray on a nice, even coat of paint to finish up the tub.
Upon seeing the finished parts, especially this iconic Willys grille, after the entire stripping, fabrication, bodywork, and paint-prep process, we knew right away that the paint selected matched up exactly to what we were looking for in a Pasture Green.
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The superbly done paintjob, color choice, seat material, and trim pieces blend well together to give our CJ-2A project a timeless look. This project ended up needing way more complicated and advanced bodywork than was originally expected or that we could handle on our own. The professionals at AutoCraft came through with stunning results.


Camarillo, CA 93012

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